The Art of Darkness

These Evil, Insectoid Fairies Will Haunt Your Nightmares

May 19th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Tessa Farmer SwarmI think I’m going to put a mild trigger warning on this, for unsettling (albeit entirely fictional) depictions of animal cruelty.

Fairies have been very thoroughly Disneyfied these days, but in the earliest stories about them they’re barbaric creatures with often malevolent motives. Artist Tessa Farmer gets back to their roots with works that are both technically astonishing and psychologically unsettling.

Her miniscule fairies incorporate bits of taxidermied insects, and she arranges them in amazingly elaborate tableaux which depicts their savage nature: Tormenting spiders, parading a captured hedgehog, attacking and parasitizing a fox.

Farmer’s site has descriptions and photos of her installations, but the site gallery is extraordinarily annoying to navigate; you can view a sample of her work at Dangerous Minds. She also did a short stop-motion animation, “Nest of the Skeletons,” for an artists’ competition at Tatton Park:

The film introduces viewers to a previously hidden world, where malevolent fairies have constructed a nest for themselves inside the guts of a weathered scarecrow in the Kitchen Garden. Built from seeds, leaves, twigs, roots, eggs, snail shells, mushrooms, moss and a woollen mitten, the nests components have been gathered from the gardens and grounds of Tatton in the tradition of birds and insects, which use external sources and materials to construct their habitats.

The fairy nest is divided into specific, purpose-built areas of activity. The Nursery space cares for the youngest fairies, newly hatched from their cocoons, while the Feeding Room is a containing space in which doting elders throw insects down to the hungry young of the colony. The Arena is a place of spectacular combat, where a fairy and a wasp wrestle in front of an enraged audience. The Larder stores captured insects for later eating and/or torture, as well as a stolen birds egg, which has been pushed inside a child’s mitten, to ensure incubation and hatching of the baby bird prior to its consumption (like the calf that exists to become veal).

These fairies are not the stuff of Disney, but are part of a richer, darker, more ancient mythology that instils fear rather than pleasure-filled fantasy. Their existence reminds us of the harsh realities of the life cycles of plants and animals, which need to consume resources at the expense of their competitors in order to survive.

I don’t know about you, but I’m never going to be able to look at Tinkerbell quite the same way.

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